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Bibi’s problems with the truth


Perhaps it’s naivete, but I still have faith in President Lincoln’s claim that a person can fool all the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but one cannot fool all of the people all of the time. Could it be then that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has proved Lincoln wrong?

Not a week passes without the Israeli press disclosing new evidence of the prime minister’s deceit, cunning, fraud or duplicity. Upon his return from Wye Mills, Md., Netanyahu notified the public that his was a better agreement than the one initiated by the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Rabin, Netanyahu said, “promised the Palestinians 92 percent of the West Bank; I gave them much less.”

How did Netanyahu come up with 92 percent? According to the former head of the Mossad (Israel’s intelligence service), this figure is a chimera of the prime minister’s imagination. Leah Rabin agrees. During a protest commemorating the third anniversary of her husband’s assassination, she proclaimed that Netanyahu is a liar who is cynically exploiting the fact that Rabin can no longer reply.

A few days later when the Wye memorandum was finally distributed among cabinet and Knesset members, it became clear that there were substantial differences between the Hebrew version and the authentic English agreement. Netanyahu, it turns out, had his assistant Danny Naveh add numerous clauses to the Hebrew document. Since most Israelis read English, and read it fairly well, this machination was also detected.

Netanyahu’s mendacity is not confined to issues relating to the Palestinian question. A number of months ago he appeared on TV and stated that Israel must continue to develop its high-tech industry by encouraging the use of personal computers in every household. Thus, the prime minister continued, “I have decided to repeal all computer taxes.” Leave it up to Netanyahu to repeal a tax that had already been repealed by his predecessor years before.

Deception also characterizes Netanyahu’s response to Israel’s increasing unemployment rate. Since he entered office two and a half years ago, national unemployment figures have risen by almost 4 percent and are now just shy of 10 percent. In Ofakim, a town in Israel’s southern desert, the unemployment rate is in the high teens. In January 1998, Netanyahu visited Ofakim and promised the residents that he would fight the high level of unemployment. To prove that his intentions were good, he vowed to create 300 new jobs within a month. Almost a year has passed, and Ofakim still tops the unemployment charts; the 300 jobs have yet to materialize.

While many politicians lie, only a few have made lying into a modus operandi. Opposition and coalition members, cabinet ministers and even Netanyahu’s closest aides have publicly stated that they do not trust their leader. Beyond the damage he has done to the peace process and to Israel’s economy, which is entering its second year of recession, Netanyahu has introduced the culture of mendacity into the Israeli political arena. One need only examine recent history to realize that the most dangerous regimes evolve in countries where leaders lie without shame. A shameless leader is a leader who can commit atrocities.

Netanyahu, for me, serves as a litmus test. If he remains in office for his full four-year term, I will have to concede that one can get away with lying all of the time and that Lincoln was wrong. In the meantime I am following the prime minister’s actions closely, longing to write a column headlined “Bye Bye, Netanyahu, Bye Bye.”

Neve Gordon writes from Jerusalem.

National Catholic Reporter, December 25, 1998